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Like Chanukah, This Mitzvah Sheds Light and Warmth

December 10, 2009
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Go, Team JFRE: Volunteers from the Philadelphia office of Marcus & Millichap, a national commercial real estate investment firm, perform post-Mitzvah Mania good deeds for Rhawnhurst NORC senior adults. Photo by Scott Weiner

"An early Chanukah gift," is how Max (not his real name), a senior adult homeowner described the good deeds that Brad Nathanson performed, and that so greatly enhanced his life. Just as the light from the Chanukah candles increases each night, so, too, Nathanson's single mitzvah has continued to grow.

When Nathanson, a young leader of JFRE -- the Jewish Federation Real Estate affinity group -- volunteered to winterize homes during Federation's Mitzvah Mania last month, he expected his project to be completed that same day. But when he saw how much more work was needed to make Max's home safe and warm, he felt a personal call to action.

Max, an 88-year-old widower, has lived in his home for more than 40 years. When Nathanson arrived on Nov. 1, the house was drafty and damp. Many windows were cracked, didn't close or were missing locks, and the thermostat needed to be replaced.

Nathanson decided to donate all the materials for the repairs, including 14 new windows.

"Max's house reminded me of my grandparents' home, even the Bar and Bat Mitzvah pictures of his children that were hanging on the walls. It touched me personally," said Nathanson, who enlisted the help of his contractor-friend Gordon Wilson Jr., who owns and operates American Home Improvement Services Corp.

"Brad's genuine intention to help is what moved me to volunteer my labor and know-how," noted Wilson. They replaced windows, and put in a new "senior-friendly" thermostat -- one that is easy to read and operate.

Max reported that his quality of life vastly improved once the new windows were installed.

"Max immediately shut off the electric space heaters in the upstairs rooms and took off several sweaters," said Nathanson. "He could once more use the upstairs bathroom, now that there was no cold draft coming in the broken window."

In addition to lowering utility costs, the new windows lock.

Max's strong, self-sufficient spirit was the impetus to "extend the mitzvah," noted Nathanson.

And Max is just one of 800 seniors served by the Federation-supported Rhawnhurst NORC -- a neighborhood program that helps seniors, ages 60 and older, remain independent in their own homes and connected to their communities.

Nathanson's enthusiasm for continuing to lend a hand after Mitzvah Mania also inspired his colleagues at Marcus & Millichap to volunteer. Spencer Yablon, regional manager of the Philadelphia office of this national commercial real estate investment firm organized a staff day of service with the Rhawnhurst NORC project.

"Brad's excitement and dedication to helping Max motivated me," explained Yablon.

On Nov. 22, a group of 23 employees, spouses and friends raked leaves and cleaned yards for 12 Rhawnhurst NORC homeowners.

The project was important to Yablon because it was hands-on.

He explained that "usually, when our employees volunteer in the community, we don't meet the people we are helping. It was especially meaningful to have conversations with the homeowners, and to see the real difference we made in their lives."

Nathanson said he hopes to continue inspiring and encouraging young real estate professionals in the Jewish community to connect through JFRE, as well as to strengthen their commitment to Federation.

"Professionals in the real estate group contribute through philanthropy, and also through volunteerism," said Nathanson. "Young people in JFRE offer a valuable skill-set; we can provide real estate solutions for our community's challenges."

The JFRE Fund offers donors a chance to target their philanthropic dollars to programs like the Rhawnhurst NORC, which provide services that support and enhance life for seniors in their own single-family homes or apartments.

Nathanson said that the reward for the "mitzvah that keeps on giving" was "joy in knowing that we made such a huge difference in one person's life."

Moreover, Max told Nathanson that his house now reminds him of how it looked when he first moved in. "And now I feel comfortable living out my life in this house," he said.

"I am happy," declared Nathanson, "that JFRE was able to deliver the gifts of light and warmth to seniors in time for Chanukah."

To learn more about the Jewish Federation Real Estate group, call Rob Meyer at 215-832-0585 or [email protected].


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